Greetings from Cambridge once again! Happy Spring and Easter to everyone. I do hope all is well!
I hadn't fallen off the deep end. :) Time has really flown by. I couldn't imagine it was already Easter and my first year at Cambridge is almost up.
I have been working hard on my project. Things are still quite slow and it is frustrating. They finished our optics lab but the postdoc and the optical designer working on the optical design of COHSI (Cambridge OH Suppression Instrument) has faced some snags in the design. Things are delayed there, as a result. I have been working steadily on the detector side of things. It is all a great deal of computer work and understanding what the previous grad student had done with these NICMOS (Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectroscope) HgCdTe arrays. I am yearning so much to start doing my own unique work. That is what gets me down. I am doing a great deal of background research for I have an oral viva in May regarding the work I have been getting my teeth into. I do know what the next steps are, but I am learning the hard lesson in research: things take LONGER than expected.
The weather has turned a turn for the beautiful! If I were to say that Cambridge is beautiful, that, in itself, would be an UNDERSTATEMENT! (Now, only if we can get rid of the tourists! :))
Sadly though, my hayfever seems to have taken a turn for the worse. :( But I don't mind so much. The sun is out. It is warm, with some cool breezes and little humidity. It is like a Wyoming summer but with no mountains.
So, to keep you up to speed with my latest adventures. February flew by. I had joined the Jesus Women's Basketball team in an attempt to meet more Jesus people. especially the undergraduates. It was fun for a while. I was so much looking forward to the Cuppers, the intramural tourney at the end of Lent term. But due to some miscommunication, the student in charge of our team had gotten the dates wrong and we never actually played a real game. I was quite disappointed. I think I have gotten over it by now. I find basketball to be a great stress reliever, but in Britain, well, basketball is AMERICAN and quite frankly, hard to come by in Cambridge. In fact we would play on the tennis courts. Now, as spring as come, it is quite difficult to get the net set up on the courts. I have turned to badminton and squash for present stress-relievers.
Then, I got pneumonia. I never had gotten so ill in my life. I was literally bedridden for nearly 3 weeks. I was lucky to have housemates who were willing to do some simple shopping for me and make me some dinners now and then. I figure it all had been my fault, since I was working quite hard and not looking after myself. But I tend to do that. I guess also I don't have much of an immunity to British bugs. In fact, the two times I have been sick here, has been the worse bouts in my life. I do think that I have no immunity to the British bugs. And, ironically, I can see that after three years when I return to the States, I shall have built up a great immunity to the British bugs, but then shall find myself vulnerable to their American cousins! :)
So that sort of put me out of the limelight for a while. I managed a recovery and *knock on wood* I have been quite fine since.
Freeman Dyson from Princeton came to speak in Cambridge on March 3. I have read several of his articles and books and have heard him numerous times on the radio speaking about basically everything, from the space station to quarks to biology. He spoke on ``The Evolution of Science'' and I soaked in every word. He is quite a dynamic speaker. He did tailor his talk to be astrophysical in topic, which was fine for me for that is my field. He did also invoke Thomas Kuhn's book on the evolution of scientific thought, which I had also read in a course at Hopkins. All in all, I found his talk to be quite inspiring especially with his mention of one of the future steps in science, the symbiosis of optics, electronics and software for astronomical research. Plainly, my thesis project. He also quoted Fred Zwicky several times in regards to the philosophy an instrument scientist should possess: namely, how an instrument should be designed for one objective and one shouldn't be surprised to see that the instrument has other capabilities, and how if an instrument is designed for a specific purpose, it shall produce better quality results than a multi-tasked instrument. It was an echo of my own thoughts, and it thrilled me to hear it from someone I admire.
And since he is at Princeton, he had to mention the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), an all-sky survey that shall surpass the Palomar sky survey of the 1950s. The funny thing is that the Brits here are far removed from it, the SDSS being primarily American. The Brits, instead, have a part in 2DF (Two Degree Field) survey to be done at the AAT (Anglo-Australian Telescope) in Australia which is mainly the SDSS for the southern hemisphere. Prof Dyson wonderfully linked these developing and future aspects to the evolution of scientific thought. Even as a scientist-in-training, I often find it amazing when I look at the caliber of scientific research which is happening today. Makes me glad to be a scientist-in-training, because there are some mighty clever things going on. I am glad to have had the opportunity to listen to a scientist who I admire and I do hope I get the chance again.
A fellow first year plays trombone in a swing band and I eagerly jumped at the chance to see a special big band jazz concert at the University Music School. It was a wonderful night and I really began to miss Swing Baltimore and the live swing concerts in the Baltimore-DC area. You don't get much of it around here.
I went to see a professor in our department, Professor Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, give a talk on ``The Evolution of the Universe'' the next Friday (March 10). I had to rush back from a RAS (Royal Astronomical Society) meeting in London that day on the mergers of galaxies, and cycled like crazy in rush hour traffic from the train station to the Sidgewick Site and made it just in time. It was a wonderful lecture geared toward the general public, but Martin has a wonderful way of speaking and expressing his ideas. I often find cosmology confusing and I disagree with Einstein's thought ``The most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is that it is comprehensible.'' I find it even more incomprehensible the more I learn about it! But I see it as the fun of it all. Martin also gave a similar lecture at the National Astronomy Meeting (NAM) held in Cardiff a week ago (see later), but his version that night of 10 March was superb. I am glad I made the time to see it. (NB. Astronomer Royal means he is appointed to the Queen. The next time I see him I have to ask him ``what does the Astronomer Royal do?'' Things in the line of PR, I am sure, and it is a temporary post.)
Then that weekend a Marshall scholar from Kent was visiting Cambridge and I met up with him and other Marshall scholars here and we went to Ely for the day (Sunday March 12). Ely is a town about 20 miles north of Cambridge. It used to be called the Isle of Ely because it was in a sense an island surrounded by a marshy fenland. Between Ely and Cambridge were the Fens. No one could build on it and it proved to be a good defense in the early days. Then humankind learned to drain the Fens and Britain expanded. But Ely is a beautiful town with a huge cathedral. We stayed for Choral Evensong and I must say it was a very moving experience. Ely is only a 10 minute train ride from Cambridge and I wonder why I never took time to see it before. The town is so quaint as well.
It was nice to have gotten out of Cambridge those days (London on Friday when I was at the RAS and did a bit of window shopping on Saville Row and admired all the shops patronized by HRH (Quite cool!) and Ely on Sunday).
The following Wednesday I attended a service dating back to 1667 in Jesus Chapel to comemmorate the anniversary of the death of one of the Fellows of Jesus, Sir Frederick Brittain. That was a very moving experience indeed. Afterwards, the widow, Muriel, invited us for a proper English breakfast in her room (her late husband's rooms, for Fellows of a college have an office in college) in college. And she showed me her cockerel collection-- it stunned me! Over 800 cocks (the cock is a symbol for Jesus College since the founder of Jesus, Bishop Alcock of Ely, is represented by cocks and globes throughout the college as a pun of his name. BTW, in the Ely Cathedral I walked in Alcock's personal chapel where he is buried and it was adorned by tons of cocks and cockerels upon globes)!!! She had cocks from 500 BC to a modern day motorized one. One was from a witchdoctor in Africa. Another was made from pure coal, a gift from the local coal miners. And she had a collection of plates and pictures, and basically everything else that had a cock on it. Quite stunning. In the other of Freddy Brittain's rooms she has kept newspaper clippings of all Jesus graduates, like Prince Edward and Alistaire Cooke and several MPs and bishops as well as football players and the like. She also has a collection of maps and banners of the college over the years. For some reason I was so proud of being a member of Jesus, because now and forever I shall be attached to a place with such a long and proud history.
I attended Brahm's Requiem Mass that following Thursday in celebration of the Comemmoration of Benefactors. It was held in Jesus College Chapel and the Jesus College Music Society did a beautiful job. Our Master, Lord Renfrew even sang in the choir!
A week passed and a friend invited me to the end of the year (even though Cambridge has three terms, classes end at the end of the second term so students can study and revise throughout the third term for their exams. Yeah! Imagine only having to take exams at the end of the year!) Graduate Dinner at Peterhouse. Black tie! I spotted my Easter dress (my best dress) and I still felt a bit underdressed, but I had a grand time nonetheless. The food was superb with 6-7 courses. I forget how many. And the dinner took place in Combination Room which is one of the oldest places in Peterhouse. Peterhouse is the oldest of the Cambridge colleges, founded in the 12th century. The room's panneling dates from the 15-16th centuries, but the ironwork and glasswork were much older. And we ate by candlelight which gave the room a majestic glow. There was a guest speaker, a former student of Peterhouse who now works for the BBC and he gave a short but amusing talk about Peterhouse, his experiences as a prankster/student(!) there, and his later career, travels and experiences. He made me wish I was into journalism. It was a delightful evening.
Mother's Day (aka Mothering Sunday) came on Sunday March 26 after we set our clocks ahead for BST (British Summer Time). Yeah, go figure. Mother's Day in March and clocks set ahead 1 week before they go ahead in the States. For a moment I was totally confused because I had been working all the time, including weekends, evenings and days, and quite frankly I lost track of time. :) I sent my mum a card on Mothering Sunday. I'm sure she got a good kick out of it! Supposedly from what I was told by my British friends is that the notion of a Mother's and Father's Day didn't exist in Britain until the 1940s when the US GIs came over. (We Americans had the holidays from way way back already.) And the British decided to emulate us but they also wanted to be DIFFERENT from the Colonies (it's quite funny when my friends refer to the States as the Colonies, but it is all in good fun, just as I reply to their Empire!). So they set the day on the day already held to be one of the two days during the year when servants were given a day off to see their parents to literally see if they were still alive. The other day being Father's Day, which is held in June.
The Dean of Jesus Chapel invited me to lunch at his home in Cambridge on Saturday 1 April. I had a wonderful time. Sadly since all the undergraduates had left for holiday and most graduates were gone as well, no one played an April's fool joke on me. Nor did I play one on anyone else. But from what I hear, the reserved Brits are far from being reserved on a day set aside for tom-foolery. The national papers and radio stations played many a trick! This year though, I missed it all, but next year I am making plans to spot them. I hear they are classic. The British journalist and newscasters do have a brilliant wit. They do not show it that often, but when they do, it is quite memorable.
The next day April 2, I left to go west. Yes, this young woman went to Wales, where (to my surprise) the signs were in Welsh (a funny looking language and even more strangely sounding) and English. I went to Cardiff (or Caerdedd in Welsh), the capital of Wales to attend NAM95, the National Astronomy Meeting. It is like a AAS (American Astronomical Society) meeting but on a much smaller scale. I was not presenting a paper or a talk (something that still disturbs me but sometimes delays happen in research...) but I did learn a great deal and got to see who are the leaders in the astronomical fields in the UK. Over 1/5 of the people there were from Cambridge, here being the stronghold of astronomy in the UK. It was very interesting to observe how people delivered their talks, from the 45 minute overview talks in the morning given by the leaders in the subfields to the 15 minute afternoon talks given by students and postdocs which highlighted the latest results in the subfields. There are a great deal of unanswered problems out there to solve.
It was an exhausting week. I took an afternoon off to see my very own first castle in Caerphilly! It was beautiful! Only a 10 minute train ride away. We were walking down this quaint Welsh street, narrow with lots of shops, and then I turned (literally) just to my left and there was this castle surrounded by a moat and a lake, Caerphilly Castle. It was in ruins, but had been restored in many places. They often have medieval reenactments there. I found it quite stunning. It was built in a matter of just 20 years because it was needed as a a stronghold. It was built in the late 13th century. I found it quite amazing that some colleges in Cambridge existed even before this castle came into being. It was built by one of the de Clares (Clare College, Cambridge, was founded by the wife of this man) to hold back one of his neighbors. It is an unusual castle not being built on a cliff, but rather in a valley between some modest mountains. But it had a marvelous defense system with multiple gates and a moat and a lake system. In fact Edward II, upon needing to flee during the War with the Barons (this was during the time when the nobles were all going for the throne), stayed at Caerphilly (with the Crown Jewels) for a few months before regaining his forces to fight again. The castle was used little after the 14th century because the owning family had more comfortable palaces elsewhere. This castle was certainly set up for defensive purposes. There was a collection of siege engines and cross bows on display--quite impressive, IMHO. It had gone into ruin in the 18th century and has been gradually restored til today. When I walked the stone halls and climbed the steps in the towers, I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the aura of the place. It is an incredible stronghold and house. And it graced the Welsh landscape with an image I shall never forget.
On the way back from Cardiff, we had to change trains in London. Instead of pushing on, a first year (Robert) and I stayed with another first year (Matthew) in London for the weekend so I could ``DO'' London properly. We met up with Mukund (another first year) and went to see London at night. And by chance we happened upon a performance by the Primavera Ensemble at St Martin's in the Fields Church of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons by candlelight. It was divine! The sounds from within this church was incredible and there was a real live harpsichord (I had never seen a harpsichord being played in person, nor had I seen the Four Seasons in person). And by candlelight, it was even so much more memorable.
The next day I went to Westminster Abbey. Wow! What a place! It is sort of the place which you read about in books, but to be there, was something. To see the tombs of kings, queens, poets, scientists, families, etc. was overwhelming. I went to see Henry III and Edward I's tombs, for those kings had dealings with Caerphilly Castle, but Edward I's son Edward II was buried in Glouchester, so I shall seek him out someday. The whole concept of royalty is so weird. You look around you and you see that they wind up where everyone else winds up, but they have a more elaborate (and in some cases I felt it bordered on hideousness) tombs. But just the whole sense of history was quite stunning. I wish I knew a bit more Latin to translate some of the inscriptions. I shall return!
We went out for Dim Sum for lunch (my first try at it, quite interesting) and then hopped over to the British Museum. WOW! What a place. I MUST return. It was so huge. I spent two hours in the Mesopotamian region and saw some tablets which I had been longing to see for the past few years. A few of the tablets I had read in my Akkadian class, like the Descent of Ishtar and some El-Amarna letters, were there. Amazing. My Akkadian was rough but I could make out some signs and it was incredible to see the terricotta statues from the Kings of the Ur III Dynasty. I shall return for I know what is there. They closed the place early otherwise we would have stayed there longer.
We had tickets to see a play that night in Haymarket, called ``Arcadia.'' It was superb! The name of the playwright escapes me but he supposedly has written several clever pieces like ``Gilderstern and Rosencrantz are Dead!'' It was quite interesting how he invoked chaos (fractals) theory, Lord Byron, Classicism, thermodynamics, and poetry. A must see for scientists and artists alike. I enjoyed it immensely. I shall get the script/book to read it again because a large number of the monologues were just superb, to lack a better word.
On Sunday Robert and I attended Palm Sunday Mass at Westminster Cathedral (R.C.) which was said by the Cardinal. It was a Solemn Mass with an exquisite choir and full of traditional ceremonies. I enjoyed it. That afternoon we met up with Matthew and went to the V\&A (Victoria and Albert) Museum and it was just another incredible experience. What a collection! They even have a whole room devoted to fakes, i.e. plaster casts of authentic things that the Brits couldn't bring back with them! Another museum to which I must return.
I arrived back in Cambridge that evening, exhausted.
This past week has sort of been a sad week for we have lost one of housemates, Kasia, who has now returned to Poland to finish her Law Degree after being here for 10 weeks. She occupied room 6 where Prof Monroe (from Florida) used to be in the Michelmas term. She is planning to return for the May Ball at Jesus in June, but I shall be in Hawaii then. The rest of my house has left for the Easter holiday, leaving me alone. I am trying *hard* not to get depressed. But it is quite lonely. Most of the Marshall scholars in town have taken a holiday in Ireland or in Europe. The first years have all gone home, since England is a small place and home is not too far away. But I am hanging in there.
Before I close, I HAVE to tell you about our housemate ERLING KAGEE, from Norway. He moved in about 6 weeks ago and is a lawyer by profession. So he is in his mid thirties. He is here, on his own money, which is not an easy task, to study philosophy for 8 months for his own interest and not to take a degree. He teaches. I figure he teaches law. But he teaches in Dublin and Oslo so he flies out once or twice a week. I haven't had much opportunity to chat with him, because he has this incredible schedule. But this guy has climbed Mt Everest and been to the North and South Pole! And not only that, he was the first person to go to the South Pole alone, without humans or dogs! He was on the cover of TIME magazine and has written a book about it. Now he has been on vacation since I heard of all of this and am awaiting to chat with him about it. Well here in Britain, there is the legacy of the famous British Explorers, trying trying hard to reach the poles, but refusing to eat their dogs in order to keep their men alive or bringing horses along when the climate was so harsh, silly things like that. But you have to hand it to the British for trying and trying again. Well, Erling is certainly the Norwegian explorer, following in the footsteps of the early Norwegian explorers who have done the job right. More about him later when he returns from Easter holiday.
By this time your eyes must be tired. And I should get back to work *sheepish grin* :). I wish work could be going better. I seem still to lack the support I got at Hopkins from my professors and from my supervisors. And I am yearning to do something of my own, but always find myself subject to countless delays outside my power. I have this evaluation in May and I hope things go well. I shall be getting a NICMOS array in July (it's about time, for I just have a multiplexer system working) and I shall be starting the task of designing my own, but simple IR test camera so I can work on the software and reading out of the detector. Since the optical design has been delayed and the chief designer has gone back to Australia for a month, there shall be delay in my work on the cryostat. So it shall be a busy summer. But I shall make time for more adventures. How often will one find oneself in England?
Term starts up next week and seminars and lectures start at full speed again. Prof Hawking is giving a talk in May that I am planning to attend. Hopefully things shall fall into place and research starts advancing again.
I apologize for the huge mass mail, but do write me back *please please* so I can hear about your adventures!
Hope all of you had a nice Spring or Easter break. I am terribly homesick for NJ and JHU and the USA (is there still no baseball? can someone inform me? I miss the Orioles and the Mets and just catching the games on the radio) . So hearing from you shall bring a piece of home back to me.
Thanks.....take care....Miss you all................